Tag Archives: personal finance

The differences between white collar job hunting and blue collar job hunting

White collar job hunting vs blue collar job huntingHere’s a post that’s been percolating for a while, based on observations I’ve made. I’ll broadly differentiate as white vs blue collar, though I’m counting, say, non-office-based sales work here under the blue collar umbrella.

Getting the job

The interview-to-offer ratio

In my experience in the white collar world, employers work hard to shortlist very few candidates and only interview a couple in person. On the other hand, blue collar employers seem to bring people in willy nilly. I am deadly serious when I say T has been to more job interviews in a single week of job hunting than I have in my entire career. So many interviews, so few offers. So much time wasted bringing someone in just for a chat. Ever heard of phone screening?

The sheer difficulty of interviewing

Interviewing when you’re unemployed isn’t too hard, logistically. But if you’re still employed?

Well, for me it’s never been a biggie. I can take my lunch whenever I want and have the flexibility to duck out to appointments during the day if needed, and make time up. For him? Breaks are strictly timed, usually at set times. That makes it pretty hard to get away for an interview during the day, unless it happens to be on the same street. And again, refer to the first point above about the sheer number of interviews required to get anywhere.

On the job

Transport costs

Speaking of that inflexibility, that often necessitates having a reliable vehicle so you can be sure of getting to work on time every day. And if you work anything outside of 9-5, you can definitely write off public transport as an option. Yet it’s probably a struggle – at the very least, when you’re starting out – to afford a decent car. So much irony: low-level job, strict hours, struggling to afford transport in order to keep said job.

Blue collar jobs are much more spread out over the whole city, whereas white collar employment is more concentrated in town. This further complicates the whole transport issue (‘just move closer to work’ isn’t that simple).

Tools of the trade

Even with discounts, we have spent hundreds, if not thousands, on gear and tools and training for him at various jobs. All that on not particularly high wages, really. True, you can take some of these with you to new jobs … but that’s if the stuff doesn’t wear out or break or expire first.

I’ve never been expected to pay for things that I need to carry out my duties at work. There was one time I paid for a design/photo-editing app out of my own Apple account and didn’t submit for reimbursement. DON’T do that by the way! It was certainly not expected, and I kick myself now for that. What was I thinking? (I was thinking that I felt grateful for the salary at my new job and I could easily absorb the cost. NOT the point.)

But HOW do they afford it?

Paris Cafe
By: Pat Guiney

Once upon a time, I found myself out to brunch with a group of people I didn’t know very well. One thing we did have in common, though, was a love of food. Personally, I rarely go to the movies, live shows, concerts, etc – my favourite form of entertainment is eating. And yes, that often means eating out. For someone who loves food, I’m a lot better at consuming it than creating it. Sigh.

But where I might eat out once or twice a week, it sounded like some of my brunch companions were eating out most nights, sometimes even twice a day. It’s not like they were eating cheap takeaways all the time, either; these were people with a more sophisticated palate than that.

I couldn’t help but wonder how they could afford to do that. I’d love to eat out that often, too, but it would not be a frugal move at all. Quickly doing a rough calculation in my head, I figured I might actually be able to swing a similar dining out budget – but it would totally eliminate my ability to save anything at all.

Normally, my friends and I talk pretty openly about money but these were definitely acquaintances, not friends. All I could do was speculate silently. How much were they earning?! What did their incomes vs outgoing costs look like? Did they save money regularly?

It seemed like such a contrast to how I personally approach money. I literally sleep on almost every purchase I make – even a small one, like buying a new cardigan. I will agonise over whether the cost of petrol for a fun weekend day trip is worth it. In short, I beat myself up over the smallest things.

Now that I think back, it’s likely they were making a lot more money than me (advertising/marketing vs journalism). Fair play. Heck, I ate out a lot last month – a few highlights here – making the most of our Entertainment Book membership before it expired. (Best of all, the membership itself cost nothing: yay for freebies.)


What constitutes ‘real’ savings?

What is 'real' savings anyway?

I recognise this will vary. When we were broke uni students, a grand or two in the bank qualified as a little nest egg. These days, it’s probably something in the five-figure range.

The other day, though, I was carrying out a mystery shopping assignment at a bank. Part of my fake scenario was having ‘no real savings’, which was specified as no more than $30k max.

Call me crazy, but is that not sufficient to qualify as ‘real’ savings? That is a significant chunk of money. Particularly as I was also supposed to have a ridiculously small amount left on my fictional mortgage ($200k) so it’s not like I’d be saving hard for a down payment in this scenario. And, if you had much more than $30k, you’d most likely be investing it rather than have it sitting in a savings account anyway.

I tell you, I felt ridiculous sitting across from that bank staffer. I wound up specifying that I had $10k in the bank (the best lies are those that stick closely to the truth!) which she sort of chuckled/snorted at and said ‘that’s a lot!’ And I felt like apologetically adding ‘yep, had some help from the parents’ or ‘married a rich dude’ since there’s no way I would have that small of a mortgage balance at this age. It didn’t help that I think she thought I was even younger than I actually am.

If I’d been in her shoes, I would’ve hated me so much. She scored awesomely on the assignment, so at least there’s that. And who knows, she might have found out that I was the surveyor, and not a real customer.

How much would you say counts as ‘real’ savings, in your world?


Would you pay for this? (Also: we’re going to Japan!)

We're going to Tokyo!
By: Luke Ma

I subscribe to a handful of travel deal newsletters, and among these is Jetstar’s weekly Friday flight alerts.

Normally I scan the subject line and delete right away. But one day in November last year, the phrase “2 for 1” caught my eye.

Even with all the add-ons that budget airlines slap you with, a 2 for 1 fare puts you well ahead! And thus, we’re going to Tokyo in September.

Assigned seats

Would you pay $5 to guarantee you and your travel partner could sit together on a flight?

Personally, I wasn’t sure at first. After all, on our flight from Reykjavik to New York, we didn’t get to choose our seats (either we checked in too late, or I missed that step somewhere along the line) and T and I wound up sitting several rows apart. And that was totally fine. It must be said, though, that this was toward the latter part of our trip , so we’d already spent a ton of time together.

But $10 (for both of us) per flight in the grand scheme of things is not a lot, so I stumped up.

Extra legroom

I am slightly toward the tall end of average for a woman and even I feel claustrophobic in economy class. So I have lots of sympathy for T.

I think it was on one of our short European flights that we got to change seats with another passenger in the exit row, and enjoy extra legroom for free. Let me tell you, that was a revelation!

Anyway, I balked at the $45 price tag for seats in the rows with extra leg room, but T‘s best sad face convinced me. And since it’s not possible to sit together and have only one person get extra leg room, that came to $90 per flight. (I would sit apart to save money, but apparently that wasn’t acceptable.)

It might even be worth it for me. I gotta say, the older you get, the more you’re willing to pay for comfort.

Hot food

The in flight meal menu looked absolutely dire. And this is where I drew the line. No way am I paying for what looks like a terrible attempt at a meat pie, or chicken and rice. Instead, we will fuel up and stock up at the airport before we leave.

Why I’m WAY more worried about buying a house than retiring

Why I'm more worried about buying a house than retiring

New Zealanders have not traditionally been great at saving for retirement. (I doubt we are the only country in this boat.) KiwiSaver was only introduced in the last 10 years and still has a lot of skeptics.

Honestly, if I’d never come across personal finance forums and blogs, I wouldn’t be particularly worried about retirement savings. I might have left my contributions at 4 percent and never increased them.

But here’s the thing. Governments have proven they are unwilling to tinker with NZ Super. And the only parties willing to do anything about the state of rental housing have wound up on the wrong side of power.

To me, then, the logical and pragmatic thing to do is to continue to pursue home ownership. I’m not counting on the government to do anything about quality, affordable housing, either rented or owned. Current policy encourages buying – the latest change would double grants for first-time buyers who are building a new house, not unlike the Homestart first home buyers grant in Perth – and nearly 10 years of renting has well and truly turned me off renting in New Zealand. I see buying as the more likely route to securing a healthy and stable future for me and my own. Our chief human rights commissioner summed up things pretty succinctly in a recent speech: “…If you can do so you will do what it takes to ensure your family live in an adequate home … many people are not fortunate enough to find a landlord that they would trust to do that.”

Since the government seems far more likely to cater for me in my twilight years than ensuring healthy housing in my best ones, I’m going to prioritise getting into a house over retirement for now. I used to be pretty set on not touching my Kiwisaver account for a down payment. (I don’t personally think it’s a great idea to enable people to withdraw even more money from their Kiwisaver accounts to buy a house, as new rules will soon allow.) But I’ve changed my mind. I’m not going to rule out drawing on it – that’s drawing from, NOT draining it, to be clear – if that’s going to mean the difference between owning and renting.

I’m tired of the terrible quality of rentals. Mushrooms and mould do not belong indoors, ever. As property owners get richer selling houses to one another, people priced out of buying have to make do with substandard rentals and no legislation to protect them from shoddy, unhealthy properties. For a country that’s been at the forefront of things like gender and marriage equality, it’s well past time we got onto the basics of housing equality.

I’m tired of being on the wrong side of rising prices. Just a few years ago when I graduated, $360 a week could get you 3 bedrooms in my area. Now it only gets you 2 on average, and I guarantee in another year or two, it will only get you 1 bedroom (and a lot of the smaller 1-bedders forbid couples. AWESOME). This is an untrendy fringe area; prices are much higher in more central suburbs. Our city is growing and there’s not enough housing. Auckland is the Sydney, London, or New York of New Zealand. I do not see this trend reversing. I think high (and rising) prices are the new normal – here to stay.

I’m tired of the uneven playing field. I have the privilege of having the kind of job where I can duck out of work during the day to go to a viewing, but even I can’t do this all the time, and you need to do this at the drop of a hat when you’re actively hunting.

I’m tired of the instability. At any time a landlord can decide to cash in and sell out, displacing you, (and of course increase rent).

Like marriage or having kids, home ownership will be bloody hard … but I believe with all my heart it beats the alternative here.

Not every rental is crap and not every owned house is warm and dry – there are always exceptions. But in broad terms, there is a divide. When you’re an owner, you have the option of taking action to address the root causes of issues with your house. I can’t wait to have (or install) decent insulation and maybe even a heat pump. When you’re renting, you simply have to put up. I personally tried to do my bit for the cause by going beyond the numbers and highlighting the quality issues in a recent magazine article on renting vs buying, but what we need is sustained mainstream coverage.

There’s a reason multiple political parties put their support behind standards for rental housing this year. There’s a reason people are talking about this issue (though as has been proven, Twitter/the internet are far from representative).

Three things I’m grateful for right now

Trying to be grateful...

So, here’s the reason I’ve been feeling down in the dumps lately. We made a decision that T would leave his job with nothing lined up (a first for us and an extreme move, yes – a topic for a separate, upcoming post).

That’s put us back to one income. We are definitely not living for today OR saving for tomorrow. Thus = unhappy me.

Rather than run down the street screaming, as I felt like doing at one recent low point, I thought I’d focus on the few things I’m currently grateful for.

(And I’m going to bite the bullet and book in a haircut – I’d been putting it off until he got back to work, but that is just ridiculous considering my haircuts are $30.)

Interest rates are on the rise

I’m currently earning 2.75% in my online savings account with my main bank, and 3.40% in my other savings account with my online-only bank.

Cheap rent

When we were searching for a place after returning to NZ, we were a one-income household. Not knowing when T would find work, it was important we live somewhere that I could afford alone. Since he’s been out of work for about half of this year, this has proven a good move, even if this place is like a deep freezer in winter. Low absolute rent also means it will be easier for us to save for a down payment … at some point.

Our rent is going up $20 a week next month, which I’m not happy about, but I’ve already been watching listings and there isn’t a lot of choice out there. We have a fantastic location and while it’s freezing and we don’t have a full kitchen, at least it’s not damp. Summer will be okay here and I think I can survive one more winter. Beyond that, we will either be on track to buying and decide to stick it out a bit longer, or give up on ever buying and fork out for a decent rental (whether agents/landlords will deign to choose us as tenants is the other hurdle, of course).

Side income

Being down to one income has meant more or less giving up on saving during this period. Yay for side income, which goes into my higher interest online savings account/mutual funds and stays there.

What are you feeling grateful for today?

Things I WON’T do to save money on travel


I don’t consider myself high maintenance, but I do have a minimum comfort level and camping does not meet it. I’m fine with hostels and seedy motels (“How do you always find the most ghetto places?!” T complained to me when we went wandering around east Berlin in search of our hostel) but I’m just not a tenting person. On a scale of 1 to Major Pain In The Ass, setting up and packing down tents rates just above scrubbing the toilet for me.


First, the realities. I mainly travel with T, and nobody is going to stop to pick up someone who looks like him. I wouldn’t! Even our host in Munich, who’d been urging us to think about hitchhiking around Germany, demurred once we actually turned up and he met us in the flesh.

Even so, I don’t like uncertainty, and relying on passing cars to pick you up is about as uncertain as it gets in travel. (I remember waiting for ages one day for our Couchsurfing guests to arrive and wondering if they were going to turn up at all. Turned out they were at the mercy of hitching, and didn’t have a way to contact us to inform us.) Also not super keen on standing outside for potentially hours on end in any weather conditions to save some money.

Taking flights at crazy times

Super late flights may be a little cheaper, but that’s not the end of the story. There’s nothing worse than arriving  in a new city trying to find your way around in the dark! Public transport may not be running by the time you arrive, so you might have to take an expensive taxi, potentially negating any flight savings. In small establishments the front desk might close at 8pm. And it just screws up your schedule and body clock in general.

Where do you draw your lines?

My top 3 money memories


What purchases stand out most in your memory to you? A car? Wedding? A particular gift?

Running back through my memory banks, these are the three instances that jump out at me:

$6 fried rice Mondays

Back when I was in my first year at uni, Mondays were the day from hell. It was literally a 12-hour day, nonstop. I went to my first job in the morning, where I typed up documents and made photocopies. Then I’d rush down to Queen St and the underground International Food Court, where I’d buy a massive fried rice to get me through the rest of the day. After wolfing down lunch, it was off to classes, and then my second job from 4-8pm, loading newspaper content online.

That stall sold fried rice for $6 in 2007; now in 2014 it costs $8.50.

$700 guitar package

I worked my ass off during that year of high school, pulling evening shifts at a call centre and weekend day shifts at a cafe. What I could save now in a few weeks took me months back then, but I was so proud of myself. My reward: a red Ibanez RG170 and a 20-watt amp.

$30,000 RTW trip

Hmm, I’m sensing a pattern here… In the months leading up to our departure, I hustled into the nights and on the weekends bashing out freelance assignments to beef up the travel fund. The highlight was earning almost $1000 in a single day – a batch of five pieces I churned out in one sitting on a Sunday. But ultimately it all came down to one day last summer when I finally sat down and calculated the total we spent on the trip, and seeing that figure staring back at me. It’s an alarming number, for sure, but one with zero regrets attached to it. I know I’d much rather a $30k honeymoon than a $30k wedding.

Your favourite money memories … go!

Five material things that (would) make me happy

material girl in a material world

As a general rule, I am all about experiences over stuff. Stuff wears out, breaks, gets stolen.

But as reported in the Atlantic this week, some material goods actually CAN make you happy. And I’m definitely not going to argue with that. Here are the material things that make my life better …

My guitar

After nearly two years being guitar-less, I picked one up for $100 secondhand last month. I can’t tell you how much joy it’s bringing me. I’m never going to be much more than a dabbler, but I didn’t realise how much I missed playing.

Unlike my old guitar, it’s not a name brand, though, and for the first time I am finding out first hand what difference that actually makes. (Occasional fret buzz, less than smooth-looking neck/body joint, and prone to paint surface cracks.) But since I’m never going to be a serious muso, it’ll do just fine for now – and possibly for a long time.

Good quality kitchen knife

I can never go back to the days of sawing away at vegetables/meat with the kind of knife that now feels so flimsy I could practically bend it with my bare hands. No siree.

Expensive frypan

Likewise, I love my Circulon pan. Now I can actually make decent looking hotcakes, among other things!

A reliable car

Not something we’ve had the privilege of experiencing much, alas. Working on changing that.

A decent house

I dream of living in a house that’s properly insulated, warm and dry.  And hey, since dreams are free, let’s throw in a bonus heat pump. Still a way off…

Adulting, step 1: Looking at income protection and life insurance

Life insurance is one of those things I figured we didn’t need to worry about until mortgage/kids entered the picture.

But I’m starting to think that maybe sooner could be better (especially if we’re going to be taking on a car loan).

I’m mainly interested in the income protection aspect. Most standalone income protection don’t seem to cover redundancy, but some life insurance policies do offer redundancy cover as an add-on. That would alleviate my worry of major setbacks/hardship if T were to lose his job.

To be honest, I’m not sure it would have helped us this year, since the company let go T and a couple of others all within their 90-day trial period – which may not count as redundancy. But it would have helped back in 2008/2009…

And of course, life insurance is quite affordable as we are still young.

(Not that I’m worried about job security myself, but I already have life insurance through work now! Maybe it’s time to make it two.)

At the moment the two main options I’m looking at are life cover through his bank, and income protection cover through an insurer. Under the bank option we can get basic life plus redundancy, which is dirt cheap, and we could also add on temporary disability cover. The insurer option is pure income protection, including disability; it’s more expensive, but without getting into all the details, you do get more for your premiums. The disability cover could be useful in the event of illness, and to a degree, accidents. For injury, there is public ACC here to the tune of 80 percent of your earnings, although we had them refuse to cover T once a couple of years ago and that was a massive and costly pain in the ass.

This comment (on Reddit, no less) really hit me hard the other week:

A lot of people don’t realize how correlated events are. You are probably not going to lose your job, unless the economy goes really bad. If the economy goes really bad, that is the precise time when you cannot find any jobs because there are so many other people looking for jobs and few companies are hiring. That is also the time when you need to tap into your savings, but your stock portfolio will be decimated. You may want to borrow some money for the short term, but the equity in your home is gone too because real estate prices are all dropping and all your credit lines are cancelled because banks stop loaning money. Instead of “these things can’t all happen at the same time” it might be closer to “these things only happen at the same time”.

Now that we are above what I think of as the WINZ threshold – ie we earn/own too much, so that we’d have to both lose our jobs and use up most of what we have before being able to get assistance in the worst case scenario – it really is up to us to make provisions for ourselves.

Any advice on navigating the headache-inducing world of insurance?